The Mint Shop

The Mint Shop

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Bon Appetit!

Last night I was in need of a good meal. And a meal which could warm me up (considering the Winter weather we have to suffer in Cambridge in these days), together with a good glass of red wine. Have you noticed how red wine warms you up much more than white wine? What is the secret (or simply the natural reason) I wonder... And also decided to bin my latest resolution for a new meat-free life style!

So I came up with the idea of scallops and beef, which of course, to make them sound much more posh were Coquilles Saint Jaques and Boeuf Bourgignon (sounds a lot better than beef stew).
But which recipe? After rambling a few books and blogs, Julia Child came to be the answer. I know you will now think: you watched the film, admit it...and yes that is true, I do raise my arms up and confess that I did watch Julie & Julia the night before.
That woman is a real inspiration! Somehow she does not seem to have mastered the art of cooking, or maybe is she simply normal? At least she doesn't constantly self gratify herself in the Valentine's way - have you ever seen his programmes? - that whatever he cooks makes him cry out of joy and amazement, Oh my God, oh my God, yammy...everything is always so effing marvelous! Or Nigella?! who cooks, holding in one hand the phone and with the other pouring down some spaghetti in boiling water, and then licks everything with her fingers....and of course when Julia talks there are not one hundred and thirty five c*** and f*** - how considerate of her not to say carb and food...

Anyway, it's odd actually that at home we've never heard of Julia Child - maybe because we don't really care for French food, or for anything else that is not made in Italy. Big mistake. The recipes below come from her book, and they are quite simple, and seriously scrumptious! Just calculate 2 hours for the Boef so that you won't eat at 11pm!

Coquilles Saint Jacques

For 2 people


> 2 big scallops (with their nice shell); 2 small shallots; 3 tbsp butter (yes they are three! But remember, this is French food!); half garlic clove minced; half white onion; 100g Gruyere; a quarter of a glass of white wine; a handful of thyme; 2 bay leaves; salt & pepper.


> Cook the onion in a tbsp of butter for 5 minutes until tender and traslucent but not browned. Stir in the shallots and garlic and cook slowly for 1 minute more. Set aside.
> Dry the scallops with kitchen paper and cut them in quarters. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and then in flour. Remove any excess of flour.
> Saute the scallops quickly in very hot butter for 2 minutes (the other tbsp).
> Pour the wine onto the scallops. Add the herbs (thyme and bay leaf) and the cooked onion which you had set aside. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Then uncover and reduce the sauce if necessary.
> Place the 4 quarters of one scallop on its shell (and the same for the other one). Sprinkle the cheese and the rest of the butter. Grill them for 2 minutes until the cheese is slightly browned.

You can serve a chilled German Riesling with them (Australian would probably be slightly too fruity).

Boef Bourgignon

> As Julia says, you can prepare it even in advance (which is even better as the flavour intensifies) thus becoming a great dish for a buffet. The recipe is rather long but I cannot apologise for that but use Julia's words: carefully done, and perfectly flavoured, it is certainly one of the most delivious beef dishes concocted. by man (and I would say by woman!)

For 6 people


> 170g chunk of bacon; 1.3kg of stewing beef cut into cubes (we got Sainsbury's Basic and is perfectly adequate as it needs a bit more cooking gaining in flavour); 1 carrot; half of bottle of red wine; 150ml beef stock; 1 bay leaf; 8 big mushrooms cut in quarters; 2 tbsp flour; 1 sliced onion; 1tbsp tomato paste; 2 mashed garlic cloves.


> Cut the bacon into lardons (i.e. stick of a couple of cm); simmer rind and bacon for 10 minutes in some water. Drain and dry.
> Preheat the oven to C180.
>Saute the bacon in oil over moderate heat for 2 minutes until borwn lightly. Remove to a side dish with a slotted spoon. Set casserole aside. Reheat until fat is almost smoking before you start saute the beef.
> Dry the beef in paper towel (apparently it will not brown it is not wet). Satue it in the hot oil and bacon fat until browned on all sides. Add it to the bacon.
> In the same fat, brown the carrots and mushrooms and set aside.
> Return the beef and bacon to the casserole and toss with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the flour and toss again to coat. Cook for 4 minutes in the oven; take it out, toss it again and back in the oven for another 4 minutes.
> Stir the wine, the stock so that the meat is barely covered. Add the tomato paste, garlic, herbs, and bacon. Bring to simmer on the stove and then cover it and put in the oven for 2 1/2 hours.
> While the stew is cooking, prepare the onions in 1 tbsp of butter (don't overcrow them in the pan or they won't cook properly). Set them aside until needed.
> At the end of the 2 hours and 1/2 pour the mushrooms in the stew.
> Serve by using a slotted spoon so that you don't serve something more resembling to soup, together with some boiling potatoes (which you will have cooked beforehand, while the meat is cooking).

Bon appetit!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Pizza: where is the secret?

Somebody unfairly hinted at my lack of work given the prolific updating of this blog...I can confidently say that I DO have a lot of work but have extroardinary organisational skills...

....It is because I have been at home for the past two months, which is a very exceptional fact on its own, which explains why I had so much time at my disposal and no exotic recipes - does Corsica count as exotic?
And also I started enjoying writing on this blog, it is really growing on me, a bit like porridge. I know that nobody really reads it (I would probably even do without the really), and that is just about me and my compulsory cooking disorder, but what the hell! SO WHAT?!? I have given myself one year to see whether I get to 50 followers, and if not then I will have to recognise my miserable failures and hang my saucepan and zip my suitcase (or simply continue using it for work)...sigh!

But hey! today the sun has finally decided to make an appearance, our courgette plant has given us two new courgettes, and I have just donated to Oxfam a big bag of my never used shirts which means I now have a lot more space in the I feel in the right mood to share with you the secrets for the perfect pizza dough!

My husband and I had a little competition last night (Flo & Deb were the lucky guinea pigs). The bet was on the right amount of flour into the mix: how much do you really need? And should it be before or after the water?

Well this is the secret - which will remain as such as nobody will read it anyway...

250ml warm water; 1 tsp sugar; 7g dried yeast (a sachet); 400g flour.

In a large bowl melt the sugar and yeast in the warm water. Leave it for 10 minutes until it starts forming a yellowish and pretty disgusting foam (and have an equally disgusting smell). Then add half of the flour and mix well to avoid lumps. Add slowly the rest of the flour mixing well. Work the mix with your hands - you need to create a boat shape closing the edges so that the air gets into the dough.

Form a ball and place in a bowl covered with a tea towel. Leave the dough in a warm place - ideally on top of the oven which will need to be very hot for the pizza later. I would calculate almost 2 hours, which it's true it is a long time, but honestly the wait is worth it!

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Stranded on a small island

Hello again! (this is only if effectively I do have somebody who genuinely reads my blogs and am not actually saying hello to myself....). I am back from sunny Corsica seriously relaxed (not that I was particularly stressed before going, considering my avarage 3 hours working schedule I had in the past 6 weeks...) but nevertheless! refreshed and super (but super!) tanned - I have turned into Fran and the Chocoloate Factory...looking forward to seeing my skin peeling off at some stage....

Corsica is really a great place - well when I say Corsica I actually mean the very tip south of the island - with plenty of breathtaking beaches! There is seriously no need to go to Maldives or similar as you can swim in turquoise cystal clear waters and lie on white sands!! So where did we go?

We landed in Bonifacio, which is at the very bottom of the island, literally facing Sardina. I must start by saying that there were no public transports whatsoever, not even taxis...the Corses have a strange concepts of moving around. So once arrived at Figari, which is this one gate airport that Ryanair has managed to take possession of (there are two Halls at the departures, Hall A, indoor, and Hall B, outside...hilarious!), we waited reasonably disconcerted for 45 minutes until the only taxi driver of the day had finished his tour and got back...and we were lucky to have found another couple who wanted to share the cost of the taxi with us, as a simple drive of 20 minutes was €40!

Anyway, once we managed to arrive in Bonifacio, we based our temporary home on a 20cmx35cm pitch at the Camping L'Araguina. The camping is really well located as it is only 3 minutes walk to the port, but campers are so packed that you feel you are sleeping with a number of people in the same tent! Also if you look at the website chirping birds move from one idyllic image to another - I think in 4 days I managed to hear the birds once, probably at around 5am! Anyway, besides these not-so-great aspects, you do have the town very close as well as a series of walking trails, which after all is what matters as you are not going on holiday to spend your day at the camping side. Always look at the bright side of life! :-)

Bonifacio is impressive. Perched on tall white chalk cliffs, it is slapped by waves and shaken by the wind day and night. I would suggest to avoid August though as it is full of tourists, so much that you have to look really hard to spot a local. But if you can find a good flight in early July I would highly recommend it. The old town is indeed very small but quite intimate and cozy. There is an almost North Sea atmosphere.

So what did we eat that I think deserves to be posted here? Aubergines in the Bonifacio way, or Aubergines a' la Bonifacienne. I found the recipe and intend to reproduce it at home as it appears pretty easy.

For 6-8 people

> 12 Aubergines; 4 eggs; 6 garlic cloves; a handful of basil leaves; 200g breadcrumb soaked in milk; 50g butter; 50g Corsican tome (this can be replaced with Manchego or Pecorino stagionato); 50g parmesan; salt & pepper; oil for pan frying.

> Cut the aubergines (leaving the skin on) into half (lenghtwise) and cook them for a few minutes in boiling and salted water (or steam them).

> Remove them from the water; once they have cooled down, scoop the flesh out. Mix the flesh with the bread, the finely chopped garlic and roughly torn basil leaves, then the eggs, the butter (soften up) and the cheeses.

> Stuff the aubergines with the mixture and cook them in a pan with a spoon of olive oil.

My suggestion is to cook them first in the pan and then finish them under the grill if you sprinkle a final touch of parmesan on top. They can be a good main course dish and can be served both cold and warm with a thick tomato sauce and a side salad.

Now I forgot to say that Corsican is a language which is essentially like Sardinian mixed with a few Napolitan and Milanese words...but nobody in Corsica will admit this as they firmly claim that it is a language completely on its own and different from any other don't even try to argue as your case won't go very far!

After 4 days in Bonifacio, we decided to move to Porto-Vecchio, one to see something different, and two because we had exausted our trails...

Porto Vecchio is less impressive than Bonifacio as there are no imposing cliffs and Whuthering Heights- style wind but still very pleasant, especially as the millions of tourists only emerge in the evening (I suppose after their day at the beach...). Around it there are some amazing beaches, Santa Giulia and Palombaggia are probably the best ones. And please do not be lazy and do walk to the end of the stretch of the bay so that you avoid screaming children, picnicing families, and groups of shouting Italians! You can take a bus - the only one provided in the entire area! - which for €5 takes you to one of these beaches; of course we thought of saving and only spend the single ticket money and then walk back to Porto Vecchio...we only miscalculated the distances though...between Santa Giulia and Palombaggia it is 8 km in total, and then from Palombaggia to Porto Vecchio is another 12km! So don't adventure yourself on that road at 7pm unless you are happy to stick your thumb up (in the air!) and hope that a kind driver will stop. We were lucky and we got picked up...phew!

Porto Vecchio offers some interesting dishes too. And to my surprise a dish which is called like something that I hated when I was a child but is actually very sweet and testy....Castagnacciu (which of course very differently is called Castagnaccio in Italian!). I asked also for this and will try the recipe as soon as Autumn comes, as it is made with chestnuts.

For 8 people

> 60g chestnut flour; 30g plain flour; 2 eggs; 2 egg yolks (keep the whites separately); 250g chestnut honey; 180g butter; 100g citron jam; 10cl orange juice.

> Melt the butter and mix it with 50g honey, eggs and egg yolks. Add little by little the two flours. Mix well to make a thick paste.

> Beat the egg whites and fold into the mix. Pour everything into separate biscuit baking moulds (buttered) and cook for 5 minutes at 200C.

> Melt the remaining of the honey in the juice and incorporate the rest of the butter to make a syrup. Cover the biscuits with it and leave to cool down on a rack.

The first person who tries the recipes before me should let me know how they turned out! I haven't done that yet so please do not blame me for any sickness, disaster to your kitchen/oven/fridge, break ups with your boyfriend/husband/girldriend/wife, death of your cat who ate any leftovers etc...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Cherries in haste

This is a super quick blog before I go to bed getting ready to our hopefully super sunny, sea and fishiy holiday in Corsica! I promise that I will try to learn a couple of recipes from the Italo/French island and tell you all about it!
This afternoon I had my friend Viviana, who I hadn't seen for ages; in fact so far it seems that we only managed to meet each other at Stansted flying to Italy on a s***** Ryanair plane....funny isn't it?

So as I thought it was kind of a special event I felt it was good to cook a cake for her to go with her cup of vanilla tea. Despite the fact that poor Viv had to provide most of the ingredients as I couldn't really leave the house as I was waiting for a delivery which in the typical English way come between 8am and 7pm....and I had no eggs and flour in the larder! I know, how pathetic is that!
Anyway, going back to the celebratory bit, I had the idea (not that original afterall as this is the fifth time that I make one...Russell has come to hate them by now!) to use our cherries that we froze some time ago, as we had something like 1,850,000 cherries from our massive tree.....and made a clafoutis...the recipe goes like this:

For 6 people


> 3 eggs; 75g caster sugar; 75g flour; 1 tsp of vanilla essence; 300ml milk; 300g cherries (enough to cover the bottom of the dish - I never weight them to be honest); 1 tsp baking powder.


> Place the cherries on the bottom of a buttered tin (20cm diameter maximum).

> Beat the eggs with the sugar; add the vanilla extract.

> Add the milk and keep beating the mix.

> Add the flour to which you will have incorporated the baking powder (mix well or you will have a souffle' effect only on one side of the cake!) - use a sift to pass the flour to the eggy mix.

> Pour the mix on the cherries and cook in the oven for 35 minutes at 180C.

> Remove from the oven and let the cake to cool. Serve warm or cold with cream, custard or ice cream.

The cake is really easy and super light as it has no butter and very little flour and sugar! A bonus for a heavy dinner with friends like tonight...the six of us had 5 bottles of wine which being a Wednesday wasn't too bad I guess...I feel ready to go to bed though...and ready to be on another s***** Ryanair plane tomorrow morning.....sun, sea and fish...wait for me!!! I'm arriving!!!

I promise I will write more when I am back....

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

A frog and a scallop for Russ

Last night we had an unexpected visitor in the garden, right behind the fennel and basil plants. We both jumped - not sure who was more scared! I left quite quickly handing a little stick to Russell as he seems the friend of all creatures (he even picks up spiders from their legs and drops them out of the window!!). The stick was not to beat up the little creature (ohhh, I'm not that cruel..!), but to solicitate the little thing towards the back entrance of the garden which I must admit is becoming a bit too lush...!

Shame I wasn't quick enough to take a picture of it! You just have to imagine it...

Anyway, our little visitor seemed a bit resistant at moving (I wonder what she had glimpsed through the kitchen door - which by the way now is always careflly shut to avoid further surprises!), but with a few kind words it left her secret corner and joined the marvels of the bushes at back of the garden.

Yes I know this story has really nothing to do with cooking or travelling, but hey, isn't my blog after all? However, we did cook...more sea food...I am secretaly turning into a marmaid...

As the weather was gorgeous (but really gorgeous! Not in the usual English sense, not raining-not wearing jumper and rain coat-not stumping your feet to defrost thumbs), we decided to use the last pieces of coal and have a healthy bbq. Last time we went to Aldeburgh we collected some amazing shells, big enough to serve food in it. So I thought it was nice to use them as mini dishes and cook our scalopps in them.

The delicious Ms Dahl makes them with a mush of minty peas with creme fraiche and garlic; I decided to have the peas with mint without the extra calories. And I was right...

So here comes the recipe....

For 2 people


> 4 scallops (or as many as your greediness desires!); 1 chilli; a few slices of fresh ginger; 1 garlic clove; a handful of parlsey and cordiander; a couple of strands of saffron (optional as I know how expensive it is but I stocked up on it last time I was in Syria as it costed a fraction to what you find here); juice of half lime and lemon; dash of white wine.

> 300g fresh peas; a handful of fresh mint leaves; salt and pepper.


> Make the marinade chopping all the above ingredients (except the scallop!), and add the juices and white. Place the scallop in the marinate for 5 minutes (don't leave them in it for too long or the juice will cook them - unless you want to make scallop carpaccio..which could be nice anyway...).

> Cook the peas in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes; drain them and blend them adding the mint and a touch of olive oil. Set aside.

> Place the scallops in the shells and pour the rest of the marinade on top. Cook them on the bbq for a couple of minutes, until the start bubbling.

> Remove from the bbq - using hot hands as the shells will have become really hot by then! Don't do what I did... - and serve on the plate (still in their shell). Spoon some of the minty mashy peas on the side of the shell and eat together with the scallop.

I thought it worked really well.

I have seen
The old pond
Frog jumping in
And sound of water

Sadiqullah Kahn

Monday, 9 August 2010

Indonesian snack

It seems that the office is plotting against trip to the Philippines has also been changed, and hopefully somebody else will go in my place. Dammit! And that was even a place I had never been before...oh well. Never mind...

My most eastern experience so far has been Indonesia, Java which is the biggest island of the country - most of you I am sure are familiar with Bali. The rice paddies are a real symbol and are everywhere. Don't worry about mosquitoes because they use a type of fish which jumps around in small streams and eat them. You could walk around there for hours.

There is always a celebration going on, a funeral (which involves months' preparations and is a joyful event as the person leaves all material things and goes to heaven, or at least this is what they hope!), or a wedding. The beauty is in the details. Of statues on the side of the road, of buildings, of tiny shrines with flowers...

Wonderful and friendly people, fantastic fruit, interesting and testy food, and amazing what more can you ask? If you're lucky, and you should be, you might bump into a group of Gamalan players. It is always made up of men of different ages. The way the turbant they wear is folded and tied around the head represent their social and maritul status (with one knot means they're single! Good to remember). The music is very slow in Java but very frantic in Bali.

Jakarta is a busy, noisy and smelly city. However, at every corner, hidden away, are some unexpected gems and paradises of tranquillity. The trick is to know where they are!

My favourite snack (or meal, quite heavy as a snack, at least for me) is something called Martabak. Marta ke? Come on, this is easy pronunciation! Make an effort! So, going back to my Martabak. Last time I was down there I made sure I stopped in Jakarta and see my friend Heni.

Heni's mum is a guru at authentic local food. And she taught me how to make Martabak Telor - Telor means savoury, to distinguish the same base from the sweet one, called Mani, normally giving you the annual intake of sugar your body needs (it has condensed milk, bananas, chocolate, sugar, cream...all at once!). Slurp!

Anyway, as I didn't want to feel guilty for the following month, I decided to ask Heni's mum to teach me the "dietetic" version of Martabak. I think you can find it as a great snack or starter for parties as it is really easy to make and very testy.


For 6 people (makes 12 pieces)


> 300g mince meat; 2 spring onions; 1 white onion; 5 garlic cloves; wanton paper or filo pastry; 1 egg yolk; sunflower oil; salt & pepper.


1. Chop very finely the vegetables. Salt the mince meat and fry the garlic, then the onions, and then add the meat. Mix well in the frying pan and when it is cooked and golden, remove it from it and set aside.

2. Chop the spring onions. In a bowl beat the egg and add the spring onion, then the meat cooked previously. Salt & pepper to your teste.

3. Cut the pastry into small squares (5cm) and fill each square with some of the filling. Fold it and close the sides well, if necessary with some of the yolk (if you have any left). 1 egg makes 5 tbsp of filling so you can add more according to the quantities.

4. Fry the filled squares in hot sunflower oil. Remove and drain on a kitchen paper.

I hope one of my readers - who are not many for the moment... - will try them and tell me if they were good. I love them!! You can have them at every market stall and those are one of the safest food you can buy on the street as they are piping hot. Trust me!

Friday, 6 August 2010

La Rosa Mexicana

My trip to Mexico that was scheduled for September has been now cancelled. I admit, this news came with mix feelings: relieved of not having to spend three weeks away from home, annoyed as other trips had been organised around this one, and disappointed as I could have taken advantage of this time and gone to Tulum. Never mind.

So, I thought of sharing with you a couple of healthy, yummy and easy - what else can you ask? -recipes from la coocina Mexicana.
Mexican food is overall not my favourite, despite having been there seven times already! I mean, there is nothing wrong in it per se, but I find it reasonably heavy and fatty (grasosa) which after a while doesn't agree with my body. And the amount of chilli they can put on it...WOAAH...your stomach can burn for hours! So always ask for "poco picante por favor"! and as they see you are a foreigner, they might have pity on you and spare you from their flames.

Everywhere you go is a real explosion of colours, smells, and noises (probably this sounds a bit like a Lonely Planet description - I should then add also cheerful!). Besides the evil chillies, which in any case I can tolerate if taken in small doses, Mexico is probably one of my favourite countries. And it is a shame that most tourists head directly to Yucatan forgetting about everything else. Don't! Puebla, Oaxaca (pronounced Huaaca), Taxco etc. etc. are FANTASTIC places and if you don't stop there you will burn in the chilly flames for the rest of your life...

I had the best guacamole (and yes you do have to pronounce the final e without turning the word into some sort of skin abnormality - tip: replace the ending e with an a and you'll have the perfect pronounciation!) in a restaurant in Condesa, one of the best neighbourhoods of Mexico City, or D.F. as locals call it, as it is very leafy and embellished with Liberty style houses.

The trick for the guacamole is to have really ripen avocados and use a mortar and sqush all the ingredients by hand. If you, like me, end up buying hard rock avocados (because they are cheaper...), I would suggest that you leave them in a brown bag and in a warm place. It will take them a couple of days to soften up (and not simply overnight as many websites seem to say). So what do you need for the best ever guacamole?

For 4 people


> 2 avocados; half white onion (please don't use a red onion or everything will turn purple...unless you like playing with colours!); juice of half a lemon; 5-6 mature vine tomatoes; salt & pepper


> Chop very finely the onion, and chop into half or quarters the tomatoes. Set aside.

> Peel and remove the stone from the avocados; squash them roughly in a mortar and then add the rest of the ingredients. Salt & pepper at your teste.

> Don't leave the guacamole in the fridge (maximum for 20 minutes) as otherwise everything becomes mushy. The fresher it is and the better!

I did say it was really really easy!

Crab Tortilla with green mole

If you feel in the mood of cooking more Mexican food, I also recommend this fabulous variation of the typical tortilla - which is with seafood rather than with meat (is crab seafood?)

For 4 people

> For the filling: 400g crab meat; 150g fresh cheddar cheese (as you probably cannot find Mexican cheese, and the one you need here is a slightly tasteless one); a knob of butter; a small shot glass of tequila (perhaps the one you are also using to make your Margarita while you're cooking...); crème fraiche;

> For the mole: 2 dried chillies; 1 white onion; 2 handful of fresh coriander; 4-5 garlic cloves; 2 green peppers; tomatillos (or green tomatoes); Romain lettuce; salt & pepper.

> 4 wheat tortilla; cheddar cheese; few handfuls of coriander; fresh and very mature red vine tomatoes.


> In a pan cook quickly and on vivid flames the crab meat with the tequila and the butter - the tequila will evaporate and be absorbed by the meat. Set aside.

> Make the mole (remember the pronunciation I taught you before...and yes! there is some link between the two names, in fact mole means concoction and so guacamole means "avocado concoction"!). In a mixer, blend all the mole ingredients. Add coriander or peppers according to the taste. If you find the green chilies, even better! Set aside for a few hours.

> Pan fry with little oil or butter each tortilla to make it reasonably warm.

> Place on half of each tortilla the mix of crab meat, creme fraiche, cheese, salt & pepper, and a touch of extra coriander. Fold the other half of the tortilla and make sure the ingredients mix together and the cheese melts. Roll the tortilla into cigars.

> Serve the tortilla with a generous spoonful of the green mole, a touch of extra cheese, a few chopped tomatoes, and chopped coriander as a final topping.

I thought I would spare a couple of words on Condesa, one of the neighbourhoods of D.F.

It is true that it can be easy to lose yourself in it because of its long and curvy roads (but that could be a pleaseure in itself) but the discoveries you make at every corner are surely rewarding! Its many Art Deco houses all differ from each other and give a sense of past chic and quite elegance. I love particularly a house with a flat roof and on top a white giant perching over the balcony and glancing at the road as if it were policing the area and protecting the household.
Once you are tired of aimlessly ambling around, you can rest at one of the many cafes or restaurants.

If you want to complete your Mexican experience, I would recommend a recent novel which gives a really good depiction of the country during the 30's and helps understand the political and social background of today's Mexico.

There is also a film based on the book, which I must, is very faithful to it. The title in Spanish is "Arrancame la Vida" which has been translated as "Tear this Heart Out" - the original title refers to the entire life rather than only to the the main character's is completely bouleverse' by the encounter of the two leading men.

Also the film is shot, as the book requires, in DF and Puebla - a town 2 hours away where you can find the best talavera (the Mexican tiles and painted pottery). So if you want some preview of the places, watch it! It is seriously gripping.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Fish cakes in Suffolk

For our anniversary we decided to go down to the coast and enjoy the colours and smells of the sea. So after an evening in Brighton (do all stag and hen nights happen there?!?) we ended up at my in-laws' for a few days. They live on the south coast near Chichester where apparently the weather is particularly mild (and that might explain the number of pensioners who migrated there).

To pay our stay we thought of cooking for R's parents (and use them as our guinea pigs as I hadn't tried this recipe before!). Fish cakes. The combination between the softness of the crab and the sweetness of the salmon with the kick of the horseradish is fantastic. Why is it called horseradish? Horses eat it?....

The recipe would like a couple of chillies but as Russell's mother seems to have an aversion against them, which she justifies with a stomach ache, we decided not to include them. However, please do add one or two (depending on the quantity you are making) as I think they give the cakes that subtle kick that washes your palate off the oiliness of salmon.

For 4 people

> 200g crab meat (it works also if comes out of a tin); 200g salmon (idem); 1 medium potato; 3 tbsp hand-made mayonnaise (or a good quality one); 2 handful of mixed herbs like dill, parsley, chive; 2 chillies; 2 stbsp of Dijon mustard or 1 tsp of English mustard (English can be so powerful that one tea spoon is more than enough...last time it made me sneeze for 5 minutes!);

> 1 egg yolk; olive oil; half the juice of a lemon; 4 gerkins; fresh horseradish (this might result particularly tricky as it seems that almost no groceries now sell it - if desperate, you can use horseradish from a jar); 1 tpsp capers; salt & pepper.

> 200g spinach;
>200g new potatoes


1. Cook the potato and mash it; mix it with the other ingredients (crab, salmon, chopped herbs, etc) and make some small patties.

2. Make the tartare sauce. Beat the egg yolk adding the juice of the half lemon, and slowly incorporating the olive oil (this can be daunting at first, but all you need to do is to be patient and make sure you drop the oil a little at the time to make sure it is absorbed rather than having two layers of unrelated ingredients!), add a bit of salt and leave to rest. Chop the gerkins, the capers and grate the horseradish, and mix them to the mayonnaise.

3. In the meantime cook the new potatoes aside.

4. Pan fry the cakes until they are gold and crispy, and add a splash of white wine that will evaporate quickly but will leave a nice flavour.

5. When the cakes are almost ready, drop the spinach leaves in a pan of boiling water so that they wilt and they toss them gently in the same pan where the cakes had been cooking until then (you have obviously removed the cakes from the pan!), dressing with some salt and olive oil, and a touch of chilli.

6. Serve the cakes on the plate with the spinach on one side, the new potatoes on the other side (well I leave the artistic arrangement to you), and a generous dollop of tartare sauce on the fish cakes. You can squeeze a little of lemon onto the cakes before eating it.

We ate our fish cakes in the kitchen, perched on metal stalls, and with the windows open, drinking a chilled bottle of Vermentino.

During our mini-holiday on the Sussex coast, I decided once more to try to read "The Sea, the Sea" by Iris Murdoch. I must confess that if you go over the first 200pages when the main character describes in detail his meals, you will not put it down until you have finished!

It is the diary that a retired play-writer and theatre director, Chalres Arrowby, writes at his house by the sea, "Shruff End", which is dilapidated and with no electricity. But it is remote enough for him to enjoy a quite life and escape the glitzes of the West End ; at least this is what he wrongly thinks as a steady stream of visitors, mostly non gratiae, crowd his place.

The book is captivating, vivid, and a real page turner. I found it quite hilarious, if not grotesque at times, with some over-dramatic scenes. I liked how Charles Arrowby slowly realises that he was drawn to the sea as the mother of all nature, calming and soothing as he is in search of a banal, quite life; however, until one has not accepted oneself, the surrounding nature will only mirror inner feelings of those who are plunged in it. And so does Iris Murdoch's sea. It becomes absorbing and dangerous, until Charles has accepted that after all quietness comes with acceptance and contempt of what is owned.

I liked particularly this short description of the sea:

"the sea is noisier today and the seagulls are crying. I do not really like silence except in the theatre. The sea is agitated, a very dark blue with white crests."

If you happen to be on the Sussex coast, I would suggest to visit Bosham.
Ahh the pronunciation is important! It is not, as you would expect, Bosham with aschh sound but Bosham with a som sound, effectively as if you were sayingbosom! I remember it as R's parents made me repeate the word at least five or six is the way people from Sussex pronounce it!

It is true that it consists of only three roads, a church, and a little port with its front, but the whole atmosphere is so retro and stylish that makes you feel like eating scallops with a spoon and buying a fishing net to catch crabs with the children perching over the commons' wall.

You might even end up there when that magnificent house overlooking the estuary is on sale....good luck!